Farm projects sometimes unfold so rapidly that they are hard to keep up with, but many take years to complete. Some require the sustained effort of a changing group for up to a decade! The creation of a permanently-protected North Amherst Community Farm has been years in the making, but all of the pieces have finally come together.
It started in 2005 in a densely-populated part of Amherst, Massachusetts when a beautiful 33-acre farm within walking distance of the state university went on the market. Neighbors came together to save the land from development, forming the nonprofit North Amherst Community Farm (NACF), seeking farmers, and figuring out how to fund a $1.2 million purchase.
Desiring to see the property remain agricultural, the selling family offered owner financing and NACF closed on the property in 2006, still unsure of where the money would come from. A capital campaign was launched; an Agricultural Preservation Restriction on the farm’s tillable acreage was purchased by the state and town; and several house lots were sold, most recently one in 2016 to the emerging Amherst Community Land Trust to develop affordable housing in partnership with Habitat for Humanity.
Meanwhile, NACF consulted Equity Trust on how to preserve the property as a working farm and to develop a lease agreement with incoming farmers Jeremy Barker Plotkin and Dave Tepfer, who had been chosen to operate their community-oriented organic vegetable and meat CSA, Simple Gifts Farm, on site.
By late 2011, Simple Gifts had been on the land for five years and the farm was in full swing. Grass-fed pastured livestock were building soil and families were flocking to the farm to visit the animals, see their food being grown, and celebrate the harvest. The farmers and volunteer community members had cleared brush and debris, improved existing infrastructure, and erected new greenhouses.
Important questions were also being raised about how to share the value of these improvements, allocate unexpected costs, and manage the farm’s remaining debt. With guidance from Equity Trust, NACF and the farmers reached consensus around these issues and developed the financial terms for the sale of the infrastructure to the farmers, once the land debt was retired. The negotiation was a challenging process over many months, and the parties worked hard to balance the interests of NACF and the farmers.
A reinvigorated community effort raised the last $400,000 over two years, finally retiring the mortgage in 2016! NACF and the farmers then got down to work to finalize a long-term ground lease for Simple Gifts Farm, turning once again to Equity Trust for help to craft an agreement that carefully protects the land’s many stakeholders and supports the farm’s long-term viability.
While NACF will continue to own the land, the farmers now own the farmhouse and other buildings and hold a long-term lease to the land. This gives Simple Gifts secure tenure and allows the farmers to build equity and pass it on to their children, while preserving the affordability of the buildings now and in the future.